[ UPDATED ] Violence at T’gganu Civil Society Forum; 2 Hurt by Police Gunfire

10 09 2007

[ UPDATE ]

Latest updates on the Batu Buruk incident:

It appears that both the victims, Suwandi Abd Ghani (37) and Muhammad Azman bin Aziz (20) suffered gunshot wounds (GSW) although the number of live rounds fired has yet to be ascertained. The police are claiming that no more than one live round was fired, but numerous bystander reports of multiple gunshots appear to contradict the police statement. What is known is that Suwandi Abd Ghani was shot in the chest while Muhammad Azman suffered a GSW to the neck.

Elizabeth Wong has more updates here.

Police also reportedly confiscated photographers’ cameras and prevented reporters from entering the area during the violent incident. So far only amateur photos and videos of the incident are available. The police had no good reason and no right to prevent the media from reporting on the incident, and it immediately raises the question of why they did so. It looks suspiciously like the police are deathly afraid that the photos and videos will contradict the ‘official’ version of events.

Jeff Ooi has posted pictures of the ‘unified’, ‘official’ and ‘approved’ mainstream media version of the incident here.

In a press conference in KL earlier this afternoon, PAS vice-president Mustafa Ali has alleged that the plainsclothes officer responsible for firing the live bullets was a police ‘agent provocateur’ infiltrated into the crowd in order to provoke police action. I am repeating the allegation here because the police have a known history of using infiltrated agents to instigate unrest in public gatherings deemed not to be in the ruling party’s interest, thus ‘justifying’ a police crackdown on civil society and opposition activists. This is similar to the ‘planted evidence’ tactics currently being attempted against civil society bloggers.

Excerpt from Malaysiakini today:

msk-070910-bloody-ceramah.jpg

While no one condones mob violence, it appears (as I noted below) that it was largely the police presence and heavy-handed police actions that escalated tensions and triggered off the riot.

______________________________

[ ORIGINAL POST ]

batu_buruk_riot-070908.jpg
[ photo courtesy of Present Point Power ]

I am extremely busy with work and work-travel, but I could not NOT respond to this latest outrage. You must have heard about it by now, the heavy-handed police response to a civil society forum in Terengganu:

Not all the facts are available yet, but those that are don’t look good. Here’s what has been reliably reported so far, as cross-referenced between Malaysiakini’s article, Harakah and BERSIH‘s own account:

The Coalition for Clean and Fair Elections (BERSIH) organised a forum to raise public awareness of the need for clean and fair elections and the problems with election fraud in Malaysia. The forum was to be held on Saturday night, 8 Sept, in Pantai Batu Buruk, Terengganu. BERSIH applied for a police permit and proceeded with the event, assuming that there would be no difficulties with this application as previous BERSIH events had been approved and proceeded without incident. At virtually the last minute, the police denied permission for the forum to proceed, and events escalated to the violence of Saturday night.

The following is a chronology of events as known at the time of this post. This will be updated as new information becomes available. It is based mainly on the one posted on the BERSIH website, translated into English and cross-referenced with the Malaysiakini report. I have inserted elements reported in Malaysiakini into the timeline; these insertions are highlighted in blue. Times given are approximate:

Saturday 8 Sept

1200: BERSIH volunteers begin setting up the event stage.

1700 : Police officers demand that the stage be dismantled.

Police officers demand ICs from event volunteers.

2000: Federal Reserve Unit ‘riot police’ (FRU) units arrive and order the crowd to disperse.

2130 : Police officers ordered to detain members of the crowd in the vicinity of the ESSO station who have refused to disperse.

2140 : The Commissioner and other panel speakers arrive at the scene near the Warong Pak Maidin (WPM). Event security removes the safety cones blocking road access from the corner of WPM to the forum venue to allow the speakers to enter.

Plainsclothes police officer(s) attempt to restrain the event security officer(s) by pulling at their clothes. One plainsclothes officer draws a pistol, points it at the security officer and threatens to arrest him.

Police refuse to allow access to the road to the forum venue.

2200 : Police officers attempt to forcibly dismantle the event stage.

Members of the public begin gathering on the main road at the junction into Masjid Batu Buruk. The crowd swells to an estimated 500 individuals.

2230: The FRU begins firing water cannon and tear gas into the area between the ESSO station and Masjid Batu Buruk, approx. 0.8 km from the event stage. The first shot(s) are fired towards the crowd gathering at the junction to the mosque.

Water cannon and tear gas is fired continuously until 0130 hours.

Sunday 9 Sept

between 2345 – 0000: A plainsclothes officer attempts to infiltrate the crowd but is recognised and pursued by several members of the crowd. The officer is reportedly pushed down or knocked down by stones thrown by the crowd, draws a pistol and fires at least one and probably several shots at the crowd.

Suwandi Abd Ghani, 37, is hit in the chest and suffers a critical injury. Muhammad Azman bin Aziz, 20, suffers neck injuries from ‘splash from several gunshots’ (GhL: possibly gunpowder flash burns and/or bullet splinters at close range) . Both men are rushed to hospital.

0110: The FRU begins withdrawing but continues to fire water cannon and tear gas at the crowd.

The crowd advances after the police and FRU.

0130 : FRU and police units withdraw completely.

Unknown individuals damage traffic signals, town council planters, the Idris Jusoh signboard and burn road cones and road barriers in the middle of the road.

The crowd remains on the road close to the junction to Masjid Batu Buruk and erects a makeshift roadblock before finally dispersing at approximately 0230.

—– END TRANSCRIPT —-

Both men injured by gunfire are being treated in Kuala Terengganu Hospital, where Suwandi Abd Ghani is reported to be in critical condition. At least 5 other persons have also been injured in the violence, with some reports of ‘scores’ of injured. At least 23 individuals were detained by the police following the violence.

As usual, Malaysiakini has the most comprehensive coverage at the moment, read the latest available article below:

msk-070909-live-bullet-fired-at-ceramah-crowd.pdf

Malik Imtiaz has a detailed commentary on the incident here.

Present Point Power has more photographs and videos of the violence here.

Elizabeth Wong has more commentary here.

The forum was organised by a polls watchdog to raise public awareness of the issues surrounding free and fair elections. This was a civil society event that had previously been organised in an orderly and trouble-free manner in other cities. Why was the permit denied/revoked at the last minute? Why was live ammunition issued at a civil society event?

As hard as I am trying to be objective, the information available at this time and the actions of the police before, during and after the riot strongly suggest that heavy-handed police behaviour was at least as much to blame for escalating the violence as the crowd:

(1) Denying the permit at the last minute for a civil society forum with a peaceful track record smacks of blatant political interference and bullying, which would have angered members of the public who were there to attend the forum.

(2) Police officers at the scene appear to have behaved in an arrogant and bullying manner, inflaming public anger and thus escalating tensions in an already tense situation.

(3) The arrival of the FRU was effectively a ‘declaration of war’ and escalated tensions further.

(4) The police attempt to detain the panel speakers and dismantle the event stage brought tensions to boiling point.

(5) The subsequent shooting of the 2 men ensured that there would be no way of pulling back from violence on Saturday night.

(6) PAS has reported that photographers’ cameras were confiscated and reporters barred from entering the area, ensuring that media coverage of the incident would as usual be one-sided. The ‘standard-issue’ photographs appearing in the mainstream newspapers appear to bear this allegation out.

WHY WAS LIVE AMMUNITION ISSUED for a civil society event?

_____________________

At the risk of repeating myself:

We as citizens have a fundamental and inalienable right to gather peaceably and to discuss in a civil manner issues concerning our society, government and nation. The use of the police to first deny freedom of speech and then to brutally crush dissent or opposition is a classic symptom of totalitarianism and fascism. DO NOT ACCEPT THIS SITUATION AND DO NOT LET IT GO UNCHECKED. DEMAND ACCOUNTABILITY.

_____________________

I refer you once again to ‘V‘s speech from my previous post “M for Merdeka; V for Vendetta“, an extract of which I reproduce below:

“…There are of course those who do not want us to speak. I suspect even now, orders are being shouted into telephones, and men with guns will soon be on their way. Why? Because while the truncheon may be used in lieu of conversation, words will always retain their power. Words offer the means to meaning, and for those who will listen, the enunciation of truth. And the truth is, there is something terribly wrong with this country, isn’t there? Cruelty and injustice, intolerance and oppression. And where once you had the freedom to object, to think and speak as you saw fit, you now have censors and systems of surveillance coercing your conformity and soliciting your submission...”

Ladies and gentlemen, this is our own government that is doing this!

We have to take responsibility for putting these creatures in power. It is as much our fault as it is theirs. Hold the government responsible, demand accountability, and throw them out at the next general election. It is our responsibility and our right as citizens to do so.

Last but not least, we must not forget the original objective of the forum, which was to raise public awareness of the need to push for clean and fair elections in a country where the elections and even the Election Commission itself are of dubious integrity. We must not be intimidated or discouraged by bullying tactics such as these. Register to vote and vote intelligently, our time will come soon.

Take back our country!

ARE YOU ANGRY YET?


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2 responses

10 09 2007
chansey

A friend told me not too long ago that Malaysia is at a crossroads – we either spiral into civil war or we ascend to being civilised.

It seems to me that we may have to face the former to obtain the latter. This is a grim day indeed.

11 09 2007
Satya

I haven’t been able to find out which one of the two it was, but either Suwandi Abd Ghani or Muhammad Azman bin Aziz is already dead. Our hearts and prayers go out to them and their loved ones.

One other civilian and four policemen are also injured, though the severity of their wounds, I haven’t been able to find out about.

The initial police statement was that no more than one gunshot was fired, but if you read:

http://www.nst.com.my/Current_News/NST/Monday/National/20070910083138/Article/index_html

Ayub Yaakob says two shots were fired. The NST reports him as saying they were fired “in the air … somehow hitting the two suspects.”

But why the hell would a crowd that gathered for a ceramah on free and fair elections arm themselves with molotov cocktails? Molotov cocktails for God’s sake!

The thing that worries me is that stuff like this seems to point towards the “planted evidence”. That and the fact that many of the policemen were in plainclothes… how could you tell all of them apart from the civilians?

And like you said, why was live ammunition used for crowd dispersement? Especially at a civil society event.

Why were they so worried about a ceramah on free and fair elections? I wonder if we’ll be ABLE to vote BN out. Are the elections free and fair enough for us to do that?


[ GhL ] :
Thanks for the update, trying to verify the reported death of one of the gunshot victims now [ 0020H Sept 11 ].
Just as with the pig farmers standoff in Malacca, the police and mainstream media’s have yet to provide evidence to back their claims that ‘Molotov cocktails’ were used against the police. The unverified claims are suspicious and sound like a desperate attempt at post-rationalisation of the heavy-handed police response.

The fires seen in the amateur photos and videos of the Batu Buruk incident were most likely from the burning of debris and flags by angry individuals (as seen on Present Point Power – see link above) during and after the violence.

Even Molotov cocktails need time and planning to prepare, i.e. pre-meditation. No confrontation was expected at what was supposed to be a peaceful civil society forum. All reliable reports indicate that the crowd present at the event had gone there to attend a peaceful civil society forum and some had even brought their families, which hardly sounds like a planned confrontation involving petrol bombs. The chronology of events in fact strongly suggests that it was police action that raised tensions to boiling point.

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